Porteños have a reputation for short fuses. Enter the Break Club.
Here in Buenos Aires, the specter of crime and public safety concerns are ever-present. But a particular subset of violent crimes have been grabbing headlines and imaginations in the Argentine capital this year: seemingly small spats between “regular” people that devolve into shockingly violent acts.
In just the past few months there have been reports of a man who killed his neighbor for playing music too loudly, another who killed his neighbor over a party wall dispute, and several cases of traffic disputes that ended in shootings and stabbings. One of the more recent cases involved a man who took an ax to a car blocking his driveway in one of the city's more upscale neighborhoods.
It's perhaps not surprising that Argentina’s biggest blockbuster film of 2014, the Oscar hopeful Wild Tales, follows this theme. The movie is a series of vignettes in which difficult, quotidian situations rapidly escalate to violent ends. For better or worse, the film has been inextricably linked with the unique temperament of porteños.
There exists at least one homegrown business in Buenos Aires that caters to these supposedly local impulses: The Break Club, a unique space that opened a couple of years ago, is just a short walk from where that guy took an ax to the ill-parked car. It offers a space where users can safely let loose their pent up aggression by destroying objects—items like glass bottles, computer monitors or television sets, which can either be brought in or purchased at the club.
“The idea was born from having lived in this city and other cities,” says founder Guido Dodero. He claims porteños, also known for their love affair with psychoanalysis, tend to overly dramatize situations. Though other parts of Latin America are actually far more crime-ridden, he feels Argentine society is overly negative and intellectual, creating a brooding stew of latent violence in normal society. It gets to the point where “you think it’s normal to come to blows with the bus driver,” he says. (And yes, this actually happens in Buenos Aires.)
I decided that my average work and transportation related stress merited a test-run of the space. The club is reservation only (no instant release for sudden moments of murderous rage) and weekend slots fill up several days in advance. According to Dodero, women dominate the clientele, and often come in pairs. Perhaps it has something to do with a macho society that accepts guys punching each other but condemns women who do the same, he hypothesizes. Some customers do come alone, while others participate in larger, organized groups, including office events.
The entire set up of the Break Club is designed to take you out of your comfort zone. It has no storefront. You’re led through a narrow staircase to a cinderblock wasteland of old furniture and shards of broken glass and plastic. Clients don protective coveralls, heavy duty gloves and welding face-shields before they pick from a neatly lined up selection of bats, wrenches and other destructive implements. You’re then allowed to pick your own smashing sound track. The Ramones is a typical choice, says Dodero, but many choose lighter fare.
I have to say: the moment when you take a bat to a bottle and watch it explode on contact is amazing. It felt powerful, and also subversive. We spend so much time trying to keep things from breaking, it's cathartic to suddenly give in. That reaction is even stronger with older people, Dodero says, who were not raised in a culture of disposable objects.
Bottles are easy, but my companion and I had to hack away for a long time at a '90s gray plastic computer monitor until it cracked open. The task was considerably more complicated than Office Space led me to believe, but it felt like revenge for all those times I’ve lost documents just before hitting the save button.
There’s a dimly lit room for post-destruction relaxation, designed in the same cinder block chic as the rest of the space. We sat there, unready to face the sunny street outside. It takes a little time to come down from our dystopian, Clockwork Orange high and rejoin polite society. As my friend said, flexing her recently bat-wielding hand, “I just keep wanting to fling this glass of water at the wall!"